In the first of our chats with the ace faces of our city, we meet Leo, front of house at The Flint House. Gilly Smith asked him how it felt after coming fourth in Brighton’s Best Restaurants Awards
Gilly: Flint House has done so well. When the sun shines and the outside area is bathed in sunshine and you’ve got a cocktail in your hand, there’s no finer place to be – and now you came fourth in the Awards. It must be fantastic to be recognised like this.
Leo: It was so exciting. I was kinda hoping for top 10 and then it was down to the top 5, and I thought “Right! We make it into the top 5 or we don’t make it at all!” But yeah, it felt amazing. It was very overwhelming for us. Very emotional.
Gilly: What do you think that they’re looking for in a Brighton Best Restaurant?
Leo: ‘Character’ I suppose is a nice word to use there; on the food, on the service, on how we display the food, the plating. I think a bit of character helps on everything, doesn’t it?
Gilly: Well, it is part of the Gingerman Group, and The Gingerman was one of the very first top restaurants in Brighton. When I came here 24 years ago, the Gingerman was just opening around that time. And it was fantastic because you knew that you would be able to get consistently great food. And that’s what you want from a top notch restaurant. The Flint House has a little bit more character about it, doesn’t it?
Leo: We call it the Gingerman’s wicked little sister.
Gilly: Absolutely. Is that what (chef-owners) Ben and Pamella McKellar wanted to do with it?
Leo: Yes, that was the whole plan. We are casual fine dining. The Gingerman standards are there, and maybe it’s a bit hidden sometimes, but it’s the way we do the service. We need to have a personality because it’s part of the whole experience.
Gilly: And as we’re talking about personality, tell us a little bit about you. You’re Brazilian. How long have you been here and why did you come to Brighton?
Leo: I left Brazil 11 years ago. I was in Ireland a little bit, and then I came to Brighton as a tourist in about 2013. I didn’t know much about it but I of course loved it! And then I was living with my husband in the Gatwick area, and as life goes, we separated in 2015 and I thought, ‘right I know where I’m heading to.’ I wanted a bit more fun. So, I came to Brighton and realised what an amazing culture of restaurants and people and everything else there was here.
Gilly: Were you in restaurants before?
Leo: I started at The Hilton at Gatwick and learnt from the madness there of suddenly having to feed two hungry people because their flight was cancelled, and you have to reset everything. Then I came down to Brighton and worked at Wagamama, and then helped to open Gails Bakery next door. And then from there to Flint House and I’ve been there since October 2019.
Gilly: You’re front of house front of house there and that’s a really important job. It’s like a theatre, isn’t it?
Leo: it is! It’s like a huge theatre. I do say that to the guys: ‘Right guys, let’s get the show on!’ That’s what we’re here to do. It is a theatre but people are literally right in front of you. There is no separation there, so things can get quite personal. But it is a performance pretty much every day.
Gilly: And of course Flint House is in The Lanes. It’s not tucked away in the North Laine, in Localville. This is Tourist Central. So you’re going to get a lot of people coming down who might not be so ‘Brighton’ as the rest of us, perhaps. Give us your top tips for dealing with sulky Trip Advisor types.
Leo: I’m gonna try not to be too sassy here, because I ‘m well-known as being the sassy one at The Flint House! We kind of need to know how to read the room because we need the customers in front of us. Adapting to the customer is very important, but I think at Flint House we have a bit of character for sure on the service. And it’s very rare that you’re gonna get the TripAdvisor people.
Gilly: I was sitting next to some last time I was there and they were pretty sullen. Who’s that lovely girl who served us with the pink hair?
Leo: That’s Hannah.
Gilly: Yeah, Hannah was absolutely fantastic. I’m not sure that they appreciated her humour or her sassiness though. And I just thought, ‘Oh my God, she’s brilliant.’ She didn’t apologise for herself in any way. They just didn’t get her.
Leo: As long as we are not rude to the customer, we do what we’re supposed to do, and we won’t apologise for ourselves. We keep the character. I think that since Covid, people have either got twice as grumpy or twice as nice. No one is the same. Normally I would take it very personally and think ‘Why aren’t they having a good experience?’ Now after a few years, I’ve learned that there is much more going on than in that two hour slot. You never know what else is going in in people’s lives.
So it’s about trying not to make it personal. You try to make the customer understand that you get them. As long as I’m not scored minus one, it’s ok. I don’t need to be plus 10 with you right now because I know that’s not going to happen. As far as we leave on zero, we can maybe redo it again. And then we can see what the next score is going to be. And that’s pretty much how I personally approach things when I’m dealing with the TripAdvisor people.
Gilly: Good attitude. Finally, Brazil or Brighton?
Leo: Brighton for sure… Brighton allows me to be myself. I wouldn’t ever be able to be the loud Leo that I am at Flint House. But also in Brazil those TripAdvisor people you mention, they are everyone. They will be judging the characters, and you have to be apologetic about yourself. And I’m not.
So definitely Brighton. Yeah, I love a bit of Brightoness.